• #thevitamindproject

Coincidence or Considered Choice?

Circa '94

After Israel was born, I scoured social media, to instruct me in what I needed to be a dare-I-say-it "cool" mum. Despite being bound by my measly SMP at the time, I bought into every trend, brand and fad that I believed provided the necessary cloak of armour for when I defied the odds and attended a Mum & Baby Group. As if the child attached to my hip wasn’t the clearest giveaway, I also needed a sweatshirt to spell out my relation to said child.

Those early days were a vicious cycle of heavily investing into “cult” mother & baby brands that I didn’t particularly even like, peddled by brand owners that couldn't be less invested in my interests if they tried. I found myself in a financial blip, succumbing to the allure of the endearing "mama tribe" and whilst I'd love to blame that all on PND, it was actually more a mix of hormones, lack of self-control and an intense desire to belong.

At some point in our lives, many of us mums likely dreamed of using our maternity leave to kick start something magical. The reality is, that our time off, is always over sooner than anticipated and often those dreams have to be put on ice, sometimes permanently. Could it be that sense of admiration for the few who manage to get their businesses off the ground, that sees an otherwise savvy mum, splurge a week's wages on a new season of "ethically made", miniature loveliness?

As my confidence grew in my ability to mother, my buying patterns became refined, and I no longer found myself a slave to the influencers. I fell in love with a palette and loosely stuck to it. I fell in love with certain fibres and became loyal to them… And it goes without saying that I fell in love with brands along the way, that became firm wardrobe favourites. In my quest to curate the perfect wardrobe (I kid,) it became very apparent that unlike the high-street brands, (who finally seemed to have cracked it), there was little to no diversity in a lot of the brands I favoured. I would eagerly await a new season release and often be disappointed to scroll through a page of samey-samey models, that barely differed between brands. Everything about these campaigns from skin tone, hair style, lighting and location, secreted a very hard to distinguish, lacklustre ambiance. To add insult to injury, many of these brands were clearly profiting from incorporating other cultures into their designs, without any accreditation or homage to the style lineage.

Whilst researching for this post, many small brands reached out to me, quick to excuse their casting choices. A familiar response I heard from seven different brands was a mish-mash of not having the budget to cast models outside their own friendship pool. I was, and still am slightly astounded, because the brutal translation is "We are happy with the brand only reflecting our small genetic pool". How exactly, do these brands expect consumers of colour and/or parents of children of colour to respond to such excuses?

“Righty-oh, as you were, please take all of my money”?

It’s a sad, tired narrative, but most importantly, it simply isn’t good enough. Please know, that if a brand doesn’t embody diversity, it isn’t circumstantial. It is an absolute, considered choice.

For too long, many smaller brands have benefited from running their business like exclusive clubs. Whilst they will allow and encourage all to buy their products, the privilege of seeing your images shared by said company is reserved for a select few. For a lot of newer mums, there is a satisfying element of acceptance at having your child's images reposted. I know how trivial this can seem, but my research led to conversations with many a distraught mum, who had blindly invested in brands in the hope of acceptance, set their notifications for new posts in the hope of a glimpse of their son, only to see a white-wash, post after post. Whilst I understand it's crucial to a brand's aesthetic, that customer images are in keeping with the rest of their feed, I can assure you that people of colour are also capable of taking beautiful photographs.

A recurring theme during my research, was brand owners and customers alike, challenging why diversity isn't integral to a successful brand. I ask you to challenge your definitions of success. If your branding is un-diverse because you live in a remote area, please be prepared for your business to remain remote. If your brand is already profiting "significantly" and you feel there's no need to invest in diversifying, you are truly naive to the spending power of an included mother. I also enjoyed many accounts of "Colour-blindness" and how the brand in question, is so absolved of racism, that they genuinely haven't noticed a need for change. The luxury of being colour-blind, is damaging for many reasons, not least because it silences people's lived experiences. I have had brands reach out to me to reassure me that I am simply "reading into this a bit too much" and to remind me that "things often even out over time".

Two years ago, I was working for a very successful British childrenswear brand. The owners had recommissioned a beautiful vintage baby book and despite years of healthy sales, they had now started to dwindle. The owner was reaching out to us to push this book on all platforms as he couldn't understand why overall sales were up, but the book sales had dropped. I offered, that perhaps it was because the book featured a white blonde baby on the cover and throughout. I suggested that when the brand had a much smaller customer base, the book represented a large proportion of buying customers. But since we had expanded, particularly in the Middle East market, this depiction of a blonde baby, ruled out many prospective clients. Who, in their right mind, for example, would gift me that book at my daughter's birth? The owner was genuinely shocked, and referenced never having to have considered this before. On asking for suggestions, I offered that we stock two smaller runs, offering the image in two darker shades to be more inclusive. My boss was overwhelmingly gracious, yet two years on, the beautiful book is still only stocked in the one variation.

You see, actions speak louder than words. We can often see through weak, half-hearted attempts to be diverse. The number 1 UK bridal magazine featured their first non-white model on their covers this year. When? To coincide with the Royal wedding of course. I am always skeptical of tokenism here on social media. (The practice of making only a symbolic effort to do a particular thing, e.g. recruiting a small number of people from under-represented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a campaign). When brands reach out to me and ask if they can repost a photo of my daughter, I often ask if my daughter will be the first person of colour to feature (if she is, I politely decline).

When I buy from a small business, I am buying into everything the brand embodies. Can you truly regard yourself as an ethical brand if your moral principles don’t extend to being inclusive? And should you care, if you happen to be among the majority whose children are included? Representation matters. My daughter needs to grow up seeing positive imagery depicting a variety of children just as much as your child does. If you flicked through a clothing brochure with your child, and every child inside was Black, do you think your child would pick up on it? Of course they would! This is the daily reality for children of “minority” and over time, it is erosive. It can cause you to challenge your facial features from a young age, question what is normal and quite often can lead to taking measures to conform physically.

Age 6, I handed my mum my school photograph. In it, I had tightly pursed my lips and was so proud of myself. My mum asked in horror why I had grimaced instead of smiled and I told her that I wanted my lips to be like my white friends. My hair was chemically straightened every 6 weeks from the age of 11, and I have close friends that regularly slept with close pegs on their noses (from a young age) in the hope of having a more European shape. I modelled from the ages of 3-11, often for High Street brands. The diversity in the casting rooms alone, often revealed the brief extended far beyond race. Over those 8 years, I worked with some incredible brands and met children from every background you can imagine. Those big brands knew their consumers, and they placed an importance on reflecting their desired customer base, not just the existing one. I ask you brand owners, what is your mission statement? What are your brand values? Who do you have in mind when designing your clothes? And what have you done, to communicate these values with your customers. If diversity isn't buying into you, ask yourself why.

A British heritage brand that I love, recently ran a "model" search. Now, "heritage" is a trigger word for myself and many people of colour, because although it shouldn't, it has so many negative connotations {inheritance, belonging, exclusivity and tradition all seem innocent, unless you consider that many people have felt alienated from British heritage and not by choice}. I digress; the model search came and went and of course, I didn't submit any photos, without even really checking their feed, I'd allowed myself to feel excluded. When they released their AW campaign a few weeks ago my heart soared, and I looked further into the brand and their overall ethics. I'm now a convert.

I'm not asking brands to include photos of models that resemble my daughter. What I would love, is for the representation to be so spot on, that my daughter wouldn't notice if nobody in that particular image resembles her. A Muslim mother reached out to me last week, she said "Sis, this dialogue you're doing at the moment is great, and although our struggles are not the same, when you win, I win" It really got me thinking. Forever being the "other" is emotionally taxing. But I can tell you, for a lot of mothers of BAME (black and mixed ethnicity), we are so thirsty to see representation that when we see it for any demographic, other than the mainstream, we cheer.

When we check our feed in the morning, and we see a realistic representation of a child with glasses in a campaign, we smile. When we spot a Hijab adorning a happy little girl in a Gap advert, we talk about it! When an image of a black girl has a healthy depiction of natural hair we rejoice. Suddenly, those beautifully shot samey-samey images, make us just as happy because our feed is now diverse. The content is thought out, inclusive and transparent. As parents, I encourage you to push for a wider narrative. Challenge brands to do more. You deserve well thought out, considered content. And brands? If after consideration, you would like to keep your content the same, kindly consider a disclaimer, so that our money can be spent elsewhere.


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